Tag Archives: Mount Pleasant

A Wish Granted: Experimental Treatment Cures Sarah Mazzie

By Joseph Hanneman
Racine Journal Times

It was Christmas 1986, and little Sarah Mazzie was making out her wish list for Santa Claus. At the top of the list wasn’t a Barbie doll, a Cabbage Patch Kid or a doll house.

At the top of Sarah’s list was written: “good health.”

“That amazed me, a child that age asking for good health,” said Sarah’s mother, Mary. “It was in that little scrawl handwriting, ‘Good health.’ ”

The 6-year-old Racine girl had her priorities straight. In the 20 months since she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, Sarah learned what it was like to be sick, to endure painful treatments and lose her hair. “Good health” has been on her Christmas list ever since.

This story was part of an award-winning 12-page special section published in The Journal Times  on Dec. 1, 1991. The project won awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology.

Bruce Camitta doesn’t look much like Santa Claus. He doesn’t have the Santa-like spare tire, and his thinning crop of hair doesn’t resemble St. Nick’s white mane.

But for Sarah, Camitta might as well have been Santa Claus.

The professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa had developed an experimental leukemia treatment that would save Sarah’s life.

Preventing recurrence
Camitta’s treatment used high doses of chemotherapy, followed by an extended period of lower doses, administered after patients had gone into remission. Patients often respond well to initial treatment, but Camitta’s goal was to prevent recurrence of the cancer.

Sarah was his 27th patient in the trial at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in suburban Milwaukee, and one of the 80-plus percent for whom the treatment has worked. She has been cancer-free ever since.

“He says I’m a pioneer girl,” said Sarah, now a pretty 11-year-old sixth-grader at Mitchell Middle School. She’s proud that she helped break medical ground and beat the cancer that could have stolen her young life.

“I don’t think about it,” she said of the leukemia. “It’s not hard, I’m just lucky they had medicine.”

Wearing a red shirt, black jeans and deck shoes, Sarah sits in a director’s chair at her family’s home on Newman Road in Mount Pleasant. Her long, black hair, dark eyes and striking smile tell no tale of cancer.

Sarah’s story as it appeared in the newspaper on Dec. 1, 1991.

She twists her hair with her fingers, fidgets in the chair and toys with the family cat. This isn’t Sarah Mazzie cancer survivor, it’s Sarah, regular 11-year-old.

“I like playing sports,” she said. “I play baseball, soccer and I go horseback riding.” She also likes tennis and swimming.

Those words seem music to the ears of Gary and Mary Mazzie, who just seven years ago faced what all parents dread — the loss of a child to a deadly disease like cancer.

In January 1985, Sarah’s parents first noticed changes in their daughter, including a persistent low-grade fever, and pains in her arms and legs. Doctors at first thought it was a virus.

“She canceled her own birthday party because she didn’t feel well,” Mary said. “I knew something was wrong.”

Things didn’t reach crisis level until the family was on vacation in South Carolina that spring. Sarah was listless, and all she did at the beach was lie on blanket. She couldn’t even walk.

‘The bottom falls out’
The Mazzies rushed back to Racine and, after Sarah had a blood test, were told to get her to Children’s Hospital. They were told to go to the oncology department.

“At that point,” Mary said, “the bottom falls out.”

Mary remembers the day the doctor called to confirm the diagnosis of leukemia. She walked out into the back yard and screamed. After walking around a bit, she called her husband at work.

“She couldn’t even talk,” Gary recalled.

Sarah once cancelled her own birthday party because she felt ill. Her parents knew something was wrong.

Inside Sarah’s body, the cancer was causing white blood cells called lymphocytes to grow erratically. Billions of faulty cells were crowding out normal white cells in her bone marrow.

“The doctors tried to tell us there was much hope with this type of cancer,” Mary said. ‘At that point, it’s very difficult to believe that.”

Gary said there was “some doubt in my mind” about trying an experimental treatment, but the couple decided to put Sarah in the trial group being gathered by Dr. Camitta.

Sarah would he treated with standard chemotherapy until the disease was in remission, then undergo six months of intensive chemotherapy and two years of oral anti-leukemia drugs.

Intensive treatment
Camitta said the goal is to keep drug levels high over long periods to reduce the number of leukemic cells in the system. Treating a child who is in remission with intensive chemotherapy was considered a somewhat “rogue” idea in the medical community at the time, he said.

Mary stayed in the hospital with Sarah each night, and Gary visited after work. Sarah was hospitalized for 21 days, and after about two weeks of chemotherapy, her cancer was in remission.

Sarah then came back to the hospital every two weeks for an infusion of methotrexate and 6-mercaptopurine, the drug combination Camitta had chosen for the experiment. Every other week, she went to the clinic for a checkup.

Doctors periodically had to insert a needle into Sarah’s spine to check for leukemic cells, and to inject chemotherapy into the spinal fluid. They also took marrow samples from her pelvis by inserting a sharp lance into the bone.

Sarah said the bone marrow biopsies were scary.

“When they were taking the blood (marrow), it hurt in my leg,” she said.

Sarah would lie on the examining table, hugging her favorite stuffed dog, Amos. She imagined that she was somewhere else, somewhere with no pain, doing something fun.

“One time I thought about the Fourth of July parade. Another time I thought about being at the beach,” she said.

Making something positive
Camitta said he was impressed that such a young child could remain so calm during treatments and tests. “She was super,” he said.

The treatments during those first six months made Sarah sick. The drugs dropped her count of infection-fighting white blood cells. She got headaches, and mouth sores. And her hair fell out.

To help make something positive out of a bad situation, Sarah took the hair that had fallen out off of her pillow each morning, and strung it out on the bushes outside. She wanted the birds to use it to build their springtime nests.

Although she was “kind of scared” about her hair falling out, Sarah adjusted. Most of her friends knew why she was losing her hair.

“When I was in kindergarten, someone thought I was a boy,” she said. “I knew it was going to grow back. I wore a lot of hats.”

Sarah’s parent said she handled the treatments well. She didn’t cry, or fight with the doctors. Her only response was to become silent and withdrawn on the way to the hospital. Occasionally she shed a few quiet tears.

Drug treatments continue
Once the first six months of drug treatments stopped, Sarah went home from the hospital. She began taking pills every day, and her mother gave her a shot every Wednesday.

Getting the pills down took some creativity on the part of her parents. The pills were mashed in food, coated with sugar and even mixed with syrup and shot down her throat with a syringe.

“They were just giving me so many medicines, and they all tasted bad,” Sarah said. “There was one l wouldn’t take. They put it in my food, tried to trick me. But I’d always find it.”

Sarah Mazzie. — Journal Times photo by Mark Hertzberg

The Mazzies religiously followed doctors’ orders in giving Sarah the medicine. The pills continued until Oct. 2, 1987.

Ordeal is over
Then it was over. Or was it? Mary kept quizzing doctors to see if any other children in the trial had a relapse of cancer. They told her not to worry.

Of the 73 children who underwent the treatment in the first two trials, more than 80 percent have remained cancer-free over long periods, Camitta said.

“That’s as good as anything else available, and we’re only using two drugs,” said Camitta, who has a giant teddy bear perched on a file cabinet outside his office. But many more children will have to be tested on the trial nationally to confirm the results, he said.

Camitta won three ardent believers on Newman Road in Mount Pleasant.

Gary said the family is stronger for the ordeal, and he realizes just how fragile life is. Whenever he has a bad day at work, he just looks at a picture of Sarah from back then, and is reminded of what is most important to him.

As for Sarah, she’s gotten on with her life, and will turn 12 in February. Asked if she has any advice for other children with cancer, she doesn’t hesitate in her response.

“I’d tell them you’d probably get better. If they cured me, they should probably be able to cure kids now.”

EPILOGUE: Sarah B. Mazzie graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2002, was married to Kevin Lee Briscoe in 2003 and earned her Juris Doctor degree from the DePaul University College of Law in 2006. She was a partner in her own law firm and has worked for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Now 40, she is a U.S. immigration judge in Minneapolis. Her parents Iive in Racine.

Top photo: Sarah Mazzie in her classroom at Mitchell Middle School in Racine. — Journal Times Photo by Mark Hertzberg.

Restoring Grandpa’s Handmade Nativity Scene

In the winter of 1966 or 1967, a young father designed and hand-crafted an outdoor nativity scene to decorate the family home in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. David D. Hanneman (1933-2007) painted the set freehand and put it on display just under the garage window of his home on Wisconsin Avenue. The nativity scene was a fixture at the home in those early years, but eventually was put in storage and forgotten.

The original Nativity scene as built by David D. Hanneman, circa 1967.
The original Nativity scene as built by David D. Hanneman, circa 1967.

Forty years later, after David Hanneman died, the badly weathered Nativity figures were rescued from a trash can in the garage. Over the next 18 months they were restored to almost original condition and put on display in the Village of Mount Pleasant.

The original backers and braces were removed from the cutout figures of St. Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus. New 1-inch-thick plywood backers were crafted with a jigsaw, then glued to the figures and anchored with wood screws. Heavy L-shape stabilizing braces were screwed into the backers to give the figures sufficient weight to withstand winter winds.

Samantha J. Hanneman retouches details on the Baby Jesus figure built by her grandfather, David. D. Hanneman.
Samantha J. Hanneman retouches details on the Baby Jesus figure built by her grandfather, David. D. Hanneman.

Samantha J. Hanneman, David Hanneman’s granddaughter, did most of the paint restoration work. With a special set of art brushes, she applied metallic gold and flat black paint to maintain the original look. Touch up paint was applied sparingly to the faces and hands of the figures to keep the hand-drawn details.

The newly restored Nativity scene was put on display at the Hanneman home in Racine County in December 2008, making the old tradition new again for another generation. The crèche was displayed for several years, but had to again be put in storage when we lost our home.  Now the figures again wait patiently to have a new home where their warm glow will fill the Christmas night.

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first Nativity crib or crèche on Christmas Eve 1223 in Greccio, Italy. St. Francis was eager to make the birth of Christ something tangible for the faithful. He had a manger built, brought animals to be part of the set, and had Holy Mass said before this representation of the birth of Christ. After the preparations were finished, St. Francis and some of his followers went to the crèche for the Mass. After a short prayer by Francis, a vision of the Christ child appeared on the hay. The miracle stirred the animals and greatly moved the faithful who witnessed it.

©2014 The Hanneman Archive

A Look Back at Two Generations of Halloween

I have nothing but good memories of Halloween. Growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, October 31 was a date we looked forward to. Whether we got to buy a costume at the dime store or made our own, it was always an exciting night.

My brother David (left), yours truly at center at cousin Laura all set for Halloween at our home in Grand Rapids, Mich., circa 1964.
My brother David (left), yours truly at center at cousin Laura all set for Halloween at our home in Grand Rapids, Mich., circa 1964.

One of my most vivid Halloween memories was documented in my book, The Journey Home. I recall Dad tearing out the front door in his sock feet. I wondered what was happening. We figured it out a few minutes later when he dragged two teenagers into the front door and made them apologize for smashing our lit pumpkins. He then turned them over to Sun Prairie police.

We had one sad Halloween when my brother David fell into the neighbors tree well and spilled all of his candy. We all shared to make up for it. Another year, we went across town to “trick or treat” at a few houses of family friends. At one door, I was shocked that the lady who answered called me by name. “How does she know me with this costume on?” I wondered. My brother chimed in, “You forgot to put your mask down.” D’oh!

David C. Hanneman was a tiger for Halloween 1964.
David C. Hanneman was a tiger for Halloween 1964.

Perhaps the most fun we had was creating our own costumes. Lighting the end of a cork on fire, then using the charred remains to paint black whiskers on our faces. Stuffing pillows up an oversized shirt helped complete the hobo look.

It wasn’t until toward the end of my trick-or-treating days that the scare over supposed razor blades in candy apples occurred. Hospitals offered to X-ray candy bags to check for pins or razor blades. That made me wonder if the candy would then glow? Ah, as it turned out the whole thing was a fraud that took on the sheen of urban legend.

Son Stevie watches Grandpa Dave Hanneman prepare to carve, circa 1993.
Son Stevie watches Grandpa Dave Hanneman prepare to carve, circa 1993.

Once I had my own children, Halloween took on a new dimension. Our firstborn was too shy to go door to door, so we made our main stop at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Eventually, Halloween became a major event. French onion soup or chili simmered in a crock pot while we took the kids around the neighborhood collecting goodies. Then we retreated into the warmth of the house for good food, warm apple cider and pie. The kids also ate candy.

With the more recent controversies claiming Halloween as un-Christian or even satanic, it was refreshing to read this article on About.com regarding the Catholic roots of Halloween.

©2014 The Hanneman Archive

 

Losing Our Home: ‘Goodbye’ Was the Very Hardest Word

This was a day I’d long dreaded. I knew it was coming, and prepared for it the best I could. But I feared it still, because I did not have an answer for the question it posed. How do I — how could Isay goodbye to our family home?

I walked through the now nearly empty house and I still had no answer. So much had happened during the nearly 14 years we lived here. Our third child joined us here. They all grew up here. Our oldest went off to college from here. I started a home-based business here; a business that failed during the long recession. That’s what eventually brought me to this day, just a short time before foreclosure would take it all away.

Stevie, Ruby and Samantha on the first day of school.
Stevie, Ruby and Samantha on the first day of school.

I stood in the front entryway and listened. Nothing. The quiet was almost deafening. A few boxes and odds and ends were scattered about, but very little remained of the home I loved. This is not how a home is supposed to look. I’m struck by how cold and empty it is. No pictures on the walls. No dogs running to the window to bark at the mailman. No children watching a favorite movie. No charcoal grill cooking steaks out on the deck. No carefully decorated Christmas tree in the corner of the family room, sending out a warm glow into the night. No family saying grace at the dinner table. This is not how I want to remember our home.

I start to walk the house. Almost like a projected movie, the memories flowed, right before my eyes.

The cluttered brilliance of my home office.
The cluttered brilliance of my home office.

I peered outside the small window to the left of the front door. I can almost see my late father coming up the sidewalk with a broad smile and saying, “Hello, Jofus” (that was his little word play on my given name after St. Joseph). September 15, 2006. That was the last time he was here. The sun glints off his silver hair, he waves, and is gone.

I turn and start to head up the stairs to the second floor. The paint color is darker on a large section of the wall. For most of the time we lived here, a giant quilt hung on the wall, embroidered with the saying, “In a House with Love, All things are Possible.” The carpeting on a section of the landing looked new where a small cherry bookcase sat. The case had belonged to my Grandpa Carl. On top of  the case I had a shrine with candles, a large crucifix and a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On many nights those candles burned in prayer for a dying relative, a sick friend or some special intention. I used to get angry at our son for dipping his fingers into the hot wax and either making fingerprints on the wood, or rolling little marble-size balls of warm wax that he left along the edge of the bookcase. What a silly thing to get upset about. How I wish I could put the case back and have those wax fingerprints again.

Welcoming Beacon: In a house with love, all things are possible.
Welcoming Beacon: In a house with love, all things are possible.
My home office on one of its cleaner days.
My home office on one of its cleaner days.

At the top of the stairs, I paused. This was the site of one of the most frightening events in family history. Samantha, then 4, was playing with a magic kit. It had a small polystyrene ball and a black tube. Her little eyes turned to a look of terror when she realized the ball had become lodged in her throat. My wife tried the Heimlich maneuver and smacking Samantha between the shoulders. It didn’t work. In desperation, she picked little Samantha up by the ankles and held her upside down. Pop! Out it came. The tears of relief flowed.

I turned left and entered the master bedroom. The heart of the house was now nearly empty. In the corner still stood a chest of drawers. I opened the top drawer and saw an envelope and more than a dozen plastic baggies. Each bag contained a tiny tooth, snatched from under a child’s pillow and replaced with a gift. It was good of the Tooth Fairy to leave them. I kept them all. I picked up the letter, which was addressed to Santa Claus, North Pole. It even had a stamp on it. I gathered the bags and the letter into my pockets. Precious memories need to be kept.

Near the end of packing, I found a tooth that sat in a dish, unredeemed.
Near the end of packing, I found a tooth that sat in a dish, unredeemed.

I walked down the hallway toward the children’s bedrooms. On the wall I could see the outlines where our wedding photos used to hang. How young we all looked on that Saturday, December 1, 1990, at St. Rose of  Lima Catholic Church. I still had hair and was 40 pounds lighter. What a blessed day that was. Such a contrast to the sadness of today.

As I approach the first bedroom, I see a large hole near the bottom of the wooden door. I remember the day in 2002 I rushed home from work because our then 10-year-old son Stevie had kicked a hole in the door in a fit of anger. As I walked inside the room, I could almost see my son’s battery-operated pteradactyl, flying in circles, anchored to the ceiling by fishing line. The wooden dressers that once sat along the western wall for years had glass aquariums on top — home to hermit crabs, green anole lizards and frogs. The anoles had a diet of live crickets, which were as likely to escape into the carpet as end up in a lizard’s stomach.

Samantha, Ruby and Stevie, waiting for Christmas with new puppy, Mr. Puggles.
Samantha, Ruby and Stevie, waiting for Christmas with new puppy, Mr. Puggles.

Across the hall, I was impressed by the cheery green paint of another child’s bedroom. There were glow-in-the-dark stars pressed all over the ceiling. Pet nets hung in the corners, once home to dozens of stuffed animals. They are empty now. This room had changed hands several times over the years. It started out with white walls as a nursery. The white steel crib sat against the far wall, waiting for its new resident. She came home on a July 4 during our first summer here. It was 104 degrees outside. Little Ruby spent a week in intensive care with a hole in her lung. She was our third baby. We worried so much about her. Every peep on the baby monitor sent us scurrying down the hall. But all was well. How many times I sat in the oak rocking chair in this room, feeding Ruby a bottle. There’s no feeling in the world like rocking a newborn in the still of the night. I thank God for the experience, and the memories.

Samantha holds baby sister Ruby in July 1999.
Samantha holds baby sister Ruby in July 1999.

There was one last bedroom on my tour. Over the years it was painted blue, white, pink and yellow. Today I saw a toddler bed tucked in the corner. I was reading a book to a curly hair redhead. It was a classic Dr. Seuss tome, Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? It was a favorite of all three children for its memorable, rhythmic lines. “Dibble dibble dop dop, cock-a-doodle-doo! Mr. Brown can do it. How about you?” Once the book was done, we started a nightly ritual to see how long I’d sit by her bed as she fell asleep. I started the bidding. “I’ll stay THESE minutes,” I said, holding up two fingers.  “No, THESE minutes,” Samantha shot back, holding up five fingers on each hand. After a few rounds of this, she usually won. Now I wish I had these minutes back again. As I turned to leave the room, I saw both daughters asleep in their beds. A small lamp threw off just enough to illumine the room. In my head I could hear a favorite Nat King Cole song:

Lights out, sweetheart / One more perfect day is through

Lights out, sweetheart / One more perfect dream come true

We’ve reached the hour of parting / So kiss me tenderly

Lights out, sweetheart / Close your eyes and dream of me

Close your eyes and dream … of me

Goodnight, sweetheart

The kids and cousin Geoffrey have a creepy-face contest.
The kids and cousin Geoffrey have a creepy-face contest.

Back down the stairs, I stood in the foyer again. My grandmother’s 1899 Singer sewing machine had been the centerpiece for years as the staging place for all sorts of family displays. I saw the children gathered around the Advent wreath, taking turns lighting the purple and rose candles. Or placing Baby Jesus into the Nativity creche on Christmas Eve. Most of the year it was covered with framed family photos, from the kids’ sports and school pictures to the large wooden-framed antique photo of my Grandma Ruby Hanneman (1904-1977).

I walked into the kitchen and was overwhelmed with memories of family meals, birthday parties, family meetings and prayer time. I recall our weekly ritual of doing a “blessing cup” ceremony, where each of us would take the blessing cup and talk about something we are thankful for. Ruby, who was very young when we started the tradition, always said the same thing: “I’m sankable (thankful) for my skoowa (school).” It never got old. Today, the table is gone and the blessing cup is packed away. I am still most thankful for it all.

One of many birthdays celebrated at our kitchen table.
One of many birthdays celebrated at our kitchen table.

I looked out the sliding glass door to the deck. Suddenly the gas grill was fired up and I was cooking steaks, vegetable kabobs and hot dogs. On the corner of the deck, a fire pit crackled with warmth in the fall night, with our children and the neighbors gathered around, toasting marshmallows. A group of children and adults sat in chairs on the deck, watching me light fireworks for July 4th. “Ooh, pretty! Light the big one now, Daddy.” I looked up at the second-story windows and saw the low flickering light from a television playing a favorite Disney movie, Aladdin.

My Dad's handmade Nativity scene, restored by his granddaughter, Samantha.
My Dad’s handmade Nativity scene, restored by his granddaughter, Samantha.

I walked around the front of the house and the snow was suddenly 3 feet deep. On the porch was my Dad’s handmade wooden Nativity scene, which daughter Samantha had repainted and restored. It glowed a welcoming gold, red and green in the cold darkness. I walked toward the garage and all three kids came running down the driveway with their fishing poles and a tackle box in tow. “Wait for me!” one yelled, as they ran towards the neighborhood pond. How I miss those fishing days now.

I walked back inside and stood at the foot of the stairway. I listened, but heard nothing. Heavy silence. Nobody home anymore. My heart was so heavy, it felt like stone. I never wanted this day, but now it was here, and at an end. “Thank you so much,” I said out loud, almost expecting the house to answer me. “I’m sorry I failed you. Thank you for sheltering us for so long. I will never forget.” There was one more word I thought I should speak, but the lump in my throat kept it from coming out. I just couldn’t say it.

There was nothing like a lazy Sunday, fishing at the pond.
There was nothing like a lazy Sunday, fishing at the pond.

I pulled out of the driveway for the last time and started to drive away. I stopped and looked out the window. More than a decade of memories were visible to me all at once. They swirled around the house like fairy dust. In the upper window, my oldest daughter laid on her bed, reading a book. On the front lawn, our preschool children splashed in a pool. Relatives filed in the front door with armloads of Christmas presents. Our son sat in a lawn chair on the porch, studying for exams. All three children romped during a nighttime snowstorm. “Dadda, it’s snowing!” A petting zoo was set up in the front yard for a birthday party, with children taking turns riding a pony around the block. A tent was set up for a summertime sleepover. The smell of steaks wafted from the backyard grill. My Dad got out of his blue sedan and walked up the driveway with a wave. Voices rang out from the children’s rooms: “I had a bad dream.” “Santa came!” “I got all As!” “I love you, too.” “I’m really proud of you.” 

I rolled down the window and took it all in. I waved and bid all of the memories to come with me. And so they followed. Some things are just too precious to leave behind. ♦

An art project stuck to the sliding glass door.
An art project stuck to the sliding glass door.
The Christmas tree was always a labor of love.
The Christmas tree was always a labor of love.
Stevie waits to blow out the candles on his 16th birthday.
Stevie waits to blow out the candles on his 16th birthday.